The truth is that very few people are truly color “blind,” and unable to see any color at all. Most who have difficulty differentiating colors have what is more accurately described as color vision deficiency, or CVD. Color blindness or color deficiency occurs when problems with the color-sensing pigments in the eye cause a difficulty or inability to distinguish colors. For some, the deficiency is subtle and may not be noticeable. But for others, the inability to differentiate between red and green can lead to troubles in the classroom, on the job, or driving. 

Color vision deficiency may seem minor, but it’s not something to take lightly, says Wadih Zein, a staff clinician at the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. “It’s important for people to know about this disease–especially teachers and educators who deal with young people,” he says.

Zein suggest that teachers can make simple adjustments, such as changing colors used for bar graphs, that can make a big difference for someone with CVD who might otherwise struggle with learning.

The most common form of CVD occurs when someone cannot distinguish between certain colors, usually between greens and reds, and occasionally blues. It affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women. People who are protans (red weak) and deutans (green weak) comprise 99% of this group. Distinguishing yellows and blues may also be problematic, although this form of color blindness is less common.

According to the Colour Blindness Awareness Organization, there are different causes for color blindness. Some people acquire this condition due to long-standing diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, some liver diseases, and practically all eye diseases; or they acquire the condition over time due to the aging process and the use of certain medications. 

CVD is one of the more commonly inherited conditions and affects millions of people globally. Red/green and blue color blindness is usually passed down genetically. Red/green color blindness is passed from mother to son on the 23rd chromosome (also known as the sex chromosome, as it also determines sex). 

Man sees color for the first time

Although there are no cures for color blindness, there are glasses to enhance color perception that function by separating light into its primary spectral elements before they reach the eye. 

Color Blindness Fun Facts:

  • During World War II, color blind men were considered to have an advantage since their inability to see green helped them to see through camouflage patterns. Today, people with color blindness are ineligible to serve in some military jobs.
  • Facebook’s interface is blue because its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, suffers from red-green color blindness.
  • Dogs, cats, and rabbits see mostly gray, whereas monkeys have a more highly developed perception of a variety of color Bees and butterflies have exceptionally developed color vision; studies show that they can see colors humans can’t even see.
  • A fatal railway accident in Sweden that killed nine people in 1875 was believed to be caused by a color blind rail operator who failed to properly read a signal. After the crash, a method to test color vision was developed and applied to railroad workers.
  • People who suffer from red/green color blindness often have a difficult time determining if their meat is cooked enough. Without being able to clearly distinguish different shades of red, it is hard to tell when meat is fully cooked.

 Denise Turner, ASID, CID, CMG is an award winning international colorist and speaker, color and design trend forecaster, Color Therapy specialist, marketing expert, author, and president of the Color Turners. She is an authority on cultural colors for the US and international market Denise regularly appears in the press, as a media spokesperson for ASID National and CMG Expert Speaker’s Bureau. She is an ASID professional member, former ASID chapter president, Certified Interior Designer, CMG Chair Holder CCIDC (California Council for Interior Design Certification) Board Member, ASID Designated Seat and UCLA graduate.